Illustrator Spotlight: Susi Schaefer

© Susi Schaefer


June 23, 2017

Today we feature picture book illustrator Susi Schaefer! Be sure to enter into her giveaway for a signed copy of her debut book, ZOO ZEN: A YOGA STORY FOR KIDS! Be sure to enter into her giveaway for a signed copy of her debut book, ZOO ZEN: A YOGA STORY FOR KIDS, written by Kristen Fischer (Sounds True 2017), which comes out on July 1. 



Tell us about your background and how you came to illustrate for children.

Thank you so much for having me on KidLit411!

I first started working as a commercial artist in my teens, when I was an apprentice to a glass painter in my native Austria. There I worked in a small glass shop in the medieval town of Rattenberg, where I painted flat pieces of glass with a mixture of colored glass powder, sap, and turpentine.  After that, the pieces were fired in a kiln, and my boss put stained glass frames around the edges.

© Susi Schaefer


I learned a valuable lesson during those years: Don’t get too attached to your work, because not everything will come out of the kiln intact.

Eventually, my quest for warmer weather and adventure brought me to Southern California. When I arrived here, I worked as a nanny.  I also took night classes for graphic design at UCI and ended up working in that field for many years. 

What got me interested in illustrating for kids were all those picture books I read out loud, first to my nanny kids, and later to my own.   Also, volunteering for an in-class art program at my children’s school reconnected me with my life-long love of creating art.  During our training, we got to use different media, and I was hooked.  After that, it took me all but five minutes to figure out that joining the SCBWI was a great way to learn about children’s publishing.  And, it was through SCBWI that I met my supportive illustrator group.

Congratulations on illustrating your debut book, ZOO ZEN: A YOGA STORY FOR KIDS, written by Kristen Fischer! We are extra excited here at Kidlit411 because you've told us we've played a small part in your journey to publication. Can you tell us how your book came about?

KidLit411 definitely played a part in my journey to publication, and I am forever grateful to you. After reading your Agent Spotlight featuring Susan Hawk, I decided to send her a query with a picture book dummy. Susan was kind enough to refer my work to her colleague, and I ended up signing with my wonderful agent, Brooks Sherman.


© Susi Schaefer


Brooks told me about a children's book manuscript that needed an illustrator and I immediately connected with Kristen Fischer's adorable story about a little girl doing yoga poses with zoo animals. Getting to illustrate it was a fantastic experience and my editor and the team at Sounds True were amazing.

What kind of research did you do to illustrate the book?

Since it is a children's yoga story, I had to research all the featured yoga poses. Luckily I practice yoga myself, so I was already familiar with some of them.  Also, I took lots and lots of photos of my children in various yoga poses for reference.  I had an absolute blast with having the main character, Lyla, copy her animal friends.

© Susi Schaefer


Can you walk us through your illustration process?

I would describe my process as making a digital collage. It usually starts with a pencil sketch. Then I combine traditional mediums like acrylic, pastels, and watercolor on different layers in Photoshop. I also add custom patterns and brushes for depth and texture. My glass painting and graphic design background still heavily influences my style.

© Susi Schaefer


What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

Find something you love to illustrate and do it until you're very, very good at it. Then grow from there. 

I started out thinking I had to illustrate everything from people, to cars, to animals, to buildings, etc.… 

I ended up with a portfolio full of " meh" illustrations that were not all that fun to do. Everything changed during an eye-opening portfolio critique at an SCBWI conference. An art director was looking at my work and favored some background flowers that were done in a simple, graphic, folk-art style, which was the style I did as a glass painter.  Once I gave myself permission to illustrate in a way that was natural to me, I found it to be an absolute joy.

© Susi Schaefer


And that valuable lesson from all those years ago still applies:
Don’t get too attached to your work, because not everything will be a successful illustration.

What projects are you working on now?

I am working on several picture book dummies; amongst them is one about feeling blue and learning how to chase that feeling away. And another one about being born different and how others react to that.
© Susi Schaefer


What is one thing most people don't know about you?

When I was little, maybe 5 or 6 years old, I was convinced that I could learn how to fly if I tried hard enough. I spent a considerable amount of time flapping my arms and leaping off raised surfaces. I even talked some friends into trying it with me, and one of them needed stitches after "flying" off our swing set.  We are still friends to this day, in case you are wondering.  Ironically, I am now afraid of flying, so go figure!

© Susi Schaefer



Where can people find you online?

My website is: www.susischaefer.com
Twitter: @susischaeferart
Instagram: susischaeferart

Facebook: Susi Schaefer Illustrations

Susi Schaefer grew up in the Austrian Alps where she worked as a glass painter. Later, she moved to Southern California and studied graphic design. Reading to her kids has made her fall in love with writing and illustrating picture books.  Zoo Zen is her debut picture book as an illustrator.


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23 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your debut book, Susi. It looks super cute and I'm sure lots of Mommys who do yoga will enjoy reading it to their kids. The illustrations are adorable. Thank you for sharing your process of collaging in photoshop. I love the advice of not getting too attached to your work. That is something that I find very hard to do and will need to practice more!

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    1. Thank you so much, I really apprechiate it. Now, let's hope I can heed my own advice regarding letting go of work if needed ;)

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  2. Love your work Susi! Enjoyed learning more about you and your art style. Can't wait to see this book.

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    1. Thanks Darshana. I'm thrilled it will finally be out and I hope you'll like it.

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  3. I was just looking at this book! Looks really good.

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    1. Thank you. It was fun to illustrate :)

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  4. Thanks for sharing! Love this - "Once I gave myself permission to illustrate in a way that was natural to me, I found it to be an absolute joy." True for writers too :)

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  5. Thank you Manju, it is so true. And thank you for the lovely tweet :)

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  6. I love the rabbit with the bumblebees--and all those colors are so beautiful!

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    1. Thank you John, he is trying his best to blend in ;)

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  7. I can't wait to see this book and all the lovely illustrations. My kids are teens so if I win I will donate to the lower school library at their school so lots of little kids can enjoy!

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    1. Thank you Jenny. Ha, I've got a couple of teenagers myself :) I really appreciate the RT on twitter.

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  8. As a huge fan of the zoo, I love this book. I can't wait to study your illustrations as I know I'll see something different each time I read this book. I share your kid desire to learn to fly--except mine was inspired by Mary Poppins.

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  9. Thank you Danielle. I love the Mary Poppins story. You must have had quite the collection of bent umbrellas :)

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  10. I love your art and its texture! Thanks for sharing, Susi.

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  11. Your art is beautiful! Good luck with Zoo Zen.

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  12. Thanks to all who took the time to check out Susi's artwork. I was thrilled when we got paired together. I remember seeing her other work and knowing that her style would fit flawlessly with the prose. Then with the colorful additions and tones in each spread, it was just the perfect fit. As a writer, I felt so blessed to see the finished product and remember thinking, "This is exactly how I saw my book in my head---but even better!" Aside from the book, Susi's style is so unique and I find that I always find new details on the pages each time I look at the book. That's what makes such a well-versed illustrator, in my opinion. Thanks, Susi! Good luck all on the contest--enjoy!!

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  13. I really enjoyed learning about Susi's artwork. This book looks such fun.

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  14. Looks like such a cute book!

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  15. The book looks beautiful!!! What an awesome book to be able to hand down to future generations 💕

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